Thank You for Making Him Real!
[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men … (Ecclesiastes 3:11a–NIV).
Born in Minnesota on August 26, 1921, Doris Koskela Heikkinen was a lover of people. She was a lover of people, however, because she was first a lover of Jesus. Thus, an encounter with Dorie was an encounter with Him. There just wasn’t any way around it.
I was privileged to call her Auntie Dorie, but not only that–she was my God-mother and her husband, dear Uncle Johnnie, my God-father. It was Auntie Dorie who held me when I was baptized at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Detroit in 1970, and I held her in my heart from that day forward.
Doris Koskela, an off-duty night nurse from Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis, first laid eyes on John “Johnnie” Heikkinen on a streetcar on October 26, 1947. They met again that same evening when both ironically attended an evening service at Morgan Avenue Lutheran Church. Uncle Johnnie, my Grandma Helga’s youngest sibling, was en route from a botched Alaskan airfield endeavor to his home in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where his Finnish family operated a dairy farm in Toivola near Lake Superior.
The couple’s unique and timely meeting is clear indication of how a loving heavenly Father makes all things beautiful in His time (Eccl. 3:11), as well as works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28). Only a month later on Thanksgiving Day, the two were engaged on the steps of the nurses’ dormitory at Swedish Hospital, and they married in the church where they first met the following summer on June 26, 1948.
Married for over 45 years, the couple lived in both Toivola and Detroit. Their earliest years were spent on Johnnie’s family farm, where they harvested apples and a plethora of berries, as well as oats and barley. They also raised dairy cows until, after the invention and subsequent “switch” from hand-milking to metal milkers, their herd developed mastitis. Sadly, many of their cows died, and the rest were sold.
Later, the couple moved with two of their eventual three children to Detroit where Uncle Johnnie was employed at Ford Motor Company, and Auntie Dorie worked as a nurse. She was also an organist and pianist at their church, St. John’s Lutheran. They raised their three children—Linda, Peter, and Donna—and later enjoyed the banter of grandchildren as love and laughter filled their home in Westland, a suburb of Detroit, from 1957 until Johnnie’s retirement in 1983. It was then that the couple moved back to Toivola to enjoy ten more years together in the quiet, rural community they loved so much, Uncle Johnnie passing away on August 6th, 1993.
Though she missed her husband dearly, Auntie Dorie continued to serve the Lord. She was the organist and pianist at South Range’s Apostolic Lutheran Church, and she wrote hundreds of songs and poems—each glorifying God, pointing readers to His creative character discovered in His wonderous creation.
Though we lived many miles apart, Auntie Dorie was one of the most influential people in my life. Second only to my parents, she shined the light and love of Jesus into every corner of my heart, and memories too many to count fill my mind—moments of her sitting with my sister and me at the piano, singing Jesus Loves Me, This Little Light of Mine, Deep and Wide, and I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy.
I know there were difficult seasons in her life, and no one’s perfect—not even dear Auntie Dorie. But she knew the One who walked with her, the One who cleansed her from every sin. Furthermore, she pointed me and many to Him—reminding us often of His “deep and wide” love, a love that took Him to the cross where all sin and shame were defeated. I can hear her now—
Oh my dear Maureen–Jesus loves you so. And so do I!
Yesterday was the fourth anniversary of her Heavenly Home-going. She slipped into Jesus’ loving embrace one day before her 95th birthday, and today she’s celebrating with her Savior. It would have been her 99th birthday here, but, even more beautiful, it’s her 4th birthday in Heaven.
Honestly, I just think Jesus wanted her Home, and though we miss her, we know we’ll be together again one day.
I was recently going through some papers I’d tucked into a binder, and I came across something Auntie Dorie had written years ago. One of many, this particular poem sums up a question that I believe was most pressing on dear Doris Koskela Heikkinen’s heart most of her days as she encountered people from all walks of life. On her birthday, it’s my desire to share her gift with others.
Is He Real?
Is my JESUS real to you?
Little One, so full of love
Praying to the Lord above;
Can you feel His tender care,
Happy that He’s always there?
Little Child, please tell me true,
Is He really real to you?
Is my MASTER real to you?
Youngster leaving childhood days,
Soon adopting teenage ways,
Looking for a purpose sure,
Wanting faith that will endure.
O, young Christian, tell me true,
Has the Master mastered you?
Is my TEACHER real to you
Student, with your probing mind,
Did you truest wisdom find?
Midst the wealth of knowledge see
Word Incarnate, knowing thee?
Is His Word your textbook true?
Is my Teacher teaching you?
Is my FATHER real to you?
Parent, in the midst of life,
Busy days of job and strife,
Ruling well your children small
Sharing every needy call?
Parent, as you weary stand
Does your Father hold your hand?
Is my SHEPHERD real to you
Oldest sheep with graying head
Shows the long trail you have led,
Many times you’ve felt His hand
Guiding over barren land.
As your journey soon is through—
Yes, praise God, He shepherds you.
(By Doris Heikkinen)
I know that today and for all eternity, dear Auntie Dorie is experiencing the real and lavish love of her …
And largely due to her influence, I am and forever will, as well. I am beyond grateful that she helped establish eternity in my heart by shining the love of Jesus upon me from the time I was very young.
So, in her honor and memory, I’ll ask what she would ask:
Is He real … to you?
If not, she would invite you to step into His loving embrace, to experience a love that will not fail.
Dear Jesus, I believe You are who You say You are. I believe You died on the cross for my sins. I confess that I am a sinner, and I ask that You cleanse me from sin. Come in to my heart, and make Your home with me. I give my life to You today, imperfect though I am. Amen.